Saturday, December 3, 2016

Albums of the Year # 23 Black Marble

The starting point for Black Marbles' second album It's Immaterial is quite clearly a love and deep knowledge on the part of its maker Chris Stewart, of the eighties back-catalogue of New Order. There's nothing wrong with that. They were a wonderful band. And Black Marble here provide them with the one thing they essentially lacked, at least in their early days: warmth.

It's a machine generated warmth mind. This is a highly synthetic album. New Order themselves were always a machine-like band but there was also a brittle, vulnerable element to their mix in the vocals, lyrics and generally nervy persona of Barney Sumner which gave them their humanity. Sumner was never really cut out to be a frontman or main songwriter, he was essentially a supporting player, as he would have been first to admit, having been thrust forward out of necessity by the death of Ian Curtis and subsequent collapse of Joy Division.

Chris Stewart, who effectively is Black Marble, provides a warmth transplant in place of Sumner's fragility but otherwise pretty much transports New Order lock stock and barrel from the eighties to 2016. But despite it or possibly because of the neutral hum of Stewart's voice, (effectively here it's an instrument like every other) we feel as if we're stuck in the machine. This is a remarkably consistent album in which one song melts into another and individual tracks are only minimally differentiated. Maybe this album serves as an end destination point for the important first records of Kraftwerk and New Order themselves futuristic as they seemed at the time of their release. Perhaps their future is here. Exemplified by It's Immaterial's conveyor belt production of sleek, near identical songs.

That's by no means a criticism. It seems to me that the android aura of the album and the cloned quality of the individual tracks is quite deliberate. It's by no means an act of retroism, Stewart has no intention of going back to the eighties. Instead elements of the past are skillfully melded into shape, slotted together and assembled like so many car chassis to create a sleek, modern collection of songs and a fine resulting album. 2016's Factory!

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